Consider the Iron Triangle of lethality, survivability and mobility when practicing how to respond to critical incidents
By Len Light, Lenco President and CEO
We’ve all heard the negative comments about the falsely perceived militarization of police, but in today’s environment of asymmetrical threats, the shared mission objectives between military and SWAT cannot be ignored. The “Iron Triangle” of lethality, survivability and mobility applies to law enforcement special response teams as well. While the missions may be similar, however, it is important to recognize that the tactics used by SWAT are demonstrably different, as their focus on public safety is institutional.
|Officers next to a BearCat during the Ottawa Parliament shooting, October 2014 (Image/Lenco)|
When police are tasked with such callouts as active shooters, barricaded suspects, hostage takings, bombings, improvised explosive devices, terrorist attacks or mass-casualty events, these increasingly violent situations must be faced by first responders who are trained and equipped to deal with challenging and fast-evolving scenes.
Recent examples in the news
Recently pipe bombs exploded in a trash container in Seaside Park, New Jersey, on the day of a 5K run for Marines. That night, an IED exploded on a busy street in New York City. After coordinated investigations, law enforcement discovered a pressure cooker bomb and other explosive packages in NYC and northern New Jersey. Police apprehended a suspect linked to all these devices after he engaged them in a running gun battle in a New Jersey neighborhood.
The Boston Marathon bombings and resulting lock down of the city’s neighborhoods in 2013 led police from multiple jurisdictions to a house-by-house search. A lethal gun battle ensued with one of the suspected bombers, and later that evening, the dramatic capture of the second suspect, hiding inside a covered boat, was broadcast on live television news for the nation to witness. (See our video presentation “Protect and Serve” documenting that operation.)
The Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shootings, the San Bernardino attack and deadly encounter with those suspects, and the Pulse Nightclub attack in Orlando all required simultaneous offensive, defensive and rescue operations, and the ambush and targeted shootings of Dallas Police officers by a commando-style gunman created an urban warfare scene evocative of exercises conducted by U.S. military in a site called the MOUT: Military Operation Urban Terrain.
These were all mass-casualty events perpetrated in the last few years by violent offenders, be they terrorists with foreign ties, homegrown extremists, or felonious criminals. Their mission to create violent chaos and mass fatalities required planning, training and equipment.
Responding to the new normal
Unfortunately, these acts of violence cannot be considered isolated instances or anomalies, but rather a new reality and forewarning of things to come. How ready would your agency be to respond, and what type of knowledge, training and equipment would best prepare you to deal with these threats, or those we can’t yet even imagine?
If your agency has a Lenco BearCat, you already possess the Iron Triangle of lethality, survivability and mobility. Knowing the capabilities of your equipment and your preparedness for the unexpected can make the difference between threat neutralization and a heroic rescue or tactical missteps that allow the threat to progress undeterred.
Lethality is the capacity to engage, damage, neutralize or eliminate the threat. It includes the use of lethal and non-lethal force to cause the inability of the threat to meet its designated mission. Many features in the BearCat support this capability.
Gun Ports: The BearCat typically has 10 gunports in the body and one in the roof hatch. They accommodate many types of munitions and can fit scoped rifles. The concave handle is located at the bottom to act as a weapon rest for a steadier shot.
The roof hatch is armor-plate and rotates 360 degrees to shield the sniper position. The interior floor stand is height-adjustable and provides a sturdy, non-slip surface to maneuver through the roof hatch.
The ability to shoot and hit your target from inside the vehicle should be a required regular training scenario to ensure accuracy and proficiency.
Front Ram Bar and Attachments: While the front ram was initially developed to breach doors or windows, it was used with surgical precision by the Massachusetts State Police to remove a shrink-wrap cover from a boat, exposing the Boston Marathon bombing suspect.
It was described as a “robotic arm” by news media and was indeed used in that capacity with great success. It allowed the response team to stay inside the vehicle, protected against potential bomb blast or gunfire, while their equipment operators performed the task of engaging the threat. Had they practiced this maneuver before? Probably not, but the operation was performed flawlessly and led to the apprehension of the suspect.
|Police in Orlando in front of the Pulse nightclub barricade|
The ram was again used effectively to breach the Pulse nightclub wall in Orlando to release trapped patrons. Many lives were saved by getting club-goers out of the building and away from the shooter.
Practicing ram maneuvers against different substrates like fabrics, wood, glass, steel and cinder block will ensure a better chance of a successful outcome because you will know what to expect. Knowing the speed to drive the vehicle and the pressure required to lift, push, bend, break or demolish the obstacle is critical.
The Gas Injector Unit: Attached to the end of the ram bar, the gas injector unit allows the team to penetrate a substrate with the steel jack-hammer “needle” and inject your chemical agent into a structure, a vehicle or anywhere a suspect might be hiding.
The team stays safe inside the BearCat while the munition deploys through the injector unit by simply flipping a switch in the BearCat’s front console.
The Ram Cam: Attached to the end of the ram bar, the ram cam allows the team a closer inspection while they stay safe inside the BearCat. It provides a multi-angled view of its surroundings and situational awareness from a remote position inside the vehicle. It also provides infrared optics in low-light situations as well as an IR flood to illuminate the room.
While typically used for barricaded suspects, it can also be used to remotely inspect backpacks or inside trash cans, dumpsters or other containers to look for potential IEDs, such as pipe bombs or pressure cooker bombs.
Practicing the techniques to achieve these maneuvers will allow the team to effectively engage the threat if necessary.
Thermal Camera: A thermal camera allows you to identify an individual’s heat signature. It is equally useful day and night, and depending on the range, it can detect personnel inside structures or in the perimeter. It is effective in atmospheric obstructions such as smoke, dust and fog, and it allows you to make better-informed tactical decisions to engage the threat with covert surveillance.
While deployed from a Massachusetts State Police helicopter, a thermal camera identified the Boston Marathon bombing suspect as he hid inside a covered boat, leading to his capture.
The presence of the BearCat itself may be enough to accomplish the mission. Many agencies have reported to us that the suspect simply gave up when the BearCat arrived on the scene due to its impending show of force and intimidation factor.
It is also a powerful tool when used to ram buildings, vehicles or other obstacles. When put into four-wheel drive, the low-end torque can have tremendous pushing, pulling or ramming power. Training might include practicing tactical maneuvers on different-sized vehicles (available from junkyards) so the driver will have experience.
Survivability is the ability to remain mission-capable after a single engagement. The BearCat’s armor materials, as well as specific optional equipment. provide this capability.
Armor: While the BearCat’s armor can defeat multi-hit .50 caliber BMG rounds, the opaque (steel) armor can take many more hits than the transparent (glass) armor. Full-impact rounds will put a ding or small crater in the steel, much like the hits to steel targets., but direct hits to the glass will cause the outer layers to shatter. If repeated hits are in a tight pattern, especially from a large bore weapon, the laminated composite may degrade, causing interior spalling or fragmenting of the glass.
While we have never received any report of a penetration, to sustain survivability, especially of the transparent armor, avoid taking multiple hits that are concentrated in a small surface area.
Remember that armor buys time to think, and react. When taking fire, the team needs to evaluate the severity of the threat and devise a survivability solution, which should include changing tactical positions.
Many years ago, we received a call from a SWAT commander during an active barricaded suspect callout. Their BearCat had taken some hits, and they reported bulges on the inside of the glass. The agency wanted to know how many shots the windshield could take. When we asked if the shooter was in a second story, they said yes, and how did we know? We explained that to cause bulging of the glass armor, the rounds had to be from a big bore rifle and hitting the glass at full impact, which would equate to zero degrees obliquity. While the windshield provides a 45-degree angle to the threat from ground level, it provides virtually no angle of deflection if the shooter is in a second story.
The team moved the truck and continued to engage the suspect from a safer position on the front lawn that did not allow for such direct hits. The suspect ultimately surrendered after the team launched tear gas into the house.
If you face this threat situation, position the truck so that the front of the vehicle does not squarely face the shooter. For optimal protection, try to get the front A-pillar to face the threat, with the corner of the front fender and hood as the target zone. Angles improve ballistic resistance and cause bullets or fragments to skip or ricochet.
In the case of glass, the force of multiple full impacts on the windshield will create a shattered spiderweb pattern that can be severe and make forward visibility extremely difficult. Angle shots tend to skip off the glass and still allow visibility to maintain situational awareness and complete mission objectives.
To increase survivability and visibility, always use angles to your tactical advantage.
WMD Equipment: Lenco offers optional equipment that can provide the capacity for survivability in a variety of WMD threat scenarios. While these threats have not been common, the equipment is available and fundable under specific grants. CBRNE detection devices can warn of hazardous environments involving explosive gas detection and nuclear and radiological threats, and our SCBA system provides on-board air to protect against chemical and biological threats.
Mobility is the ability to keep moving while retaining the ability to fulfill your primary mission. In case of attack, the ability to maintain mobility is essential to establishing a better tactical position or initiating a rescue.
To preserve mobility, the BearCat has armor to protect the engine compartment and radiator, unlike many military armored vehicles. There is also armor on the fuel tank. While this armor is not as thick as that provided for the crew compartment, the oblique angles on the hood and grill increase its ballistic capabilities.
Maneuverability: When responding to any number of high-risk callouts, the ability to make sharp turns, negotiate tight corners and quick U-turns is crucial. The BearCat’s modified wheelbase allows a much tighter turning radius than the Ford factory wheelbase. The BearCat can turn in its own length and is the most maneuverable of any armored vehicle in its class.
Drivers should become familiar with its footprint and its capabilities as well as its limitations. As with any vehicle, keeping mirrors properly adjusted will allow for quicker response times when backing up.
Tires: The most popular model is the BearCat G-3, which offers large, military-style super-single tires on the front and rear. This optional off-road tire package ensures high ground clearance and maximum traction in all types of harsh driving conditions, including rocks, mud, sand, water and other hardscape obstacles. Practice using its ability to climb in training.
Runflat Inserts: These allow the vehicle to stay mobile if the tire deflates, whether from a typical flat or from ballistic attack. The runflat device supports the weight of the truck and prevents the wheel and tire from breaking the bead.
Runflats allow the truck to drive about 30 miles at 30 mph. Since air keeps the tire cool, once the tire is flat, the heat cannot easily dissipate, so the tire eventually overheats. Faster driving would generate more heat, and cause earlier tire failure; conversely, slower driving would increase the time to failure.
While the BearCat provides these Iron Triangle capabilities, sustainable lethality, survivability and mobility are dependent on the effective integration of equipment, knowledge and training. When the time comes for response and rescue, proficiency and adaptability will be critical factors in an effective operation and successful conflict resolution.